> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > Polly Vaughan / The Shooting of His Dear
> Anne Briggs > Songs > Polly Vaughan
> Martin Carthy > Songs > The Fowler
> Peter Bellamy > Songs > The Shooting of His Dear

Polly Vaughan / The Fowler / The Shooting of His Dear

[ Roud 166 ; Laws O36 ; Henry H114 ; Ballad Index LO36 ; VWML SBG/1/3/43 ; Bodleian Roud 166 ; trad.]

Harry Cox of Yarmouth, Norfolk, sang this tragic ballad as The Fowler in the Sutton Windmill. It was recorded by E.J. Moeran, was broadcast on the BBC Third Programme in late 1947, and published in about 2000 on the Snatch'd from Oblivion CD East Anglia Sings. Cox also sang Polly Vaughan, in a recording made by Peter Kennedy in December 1953, on the anthology Fair Game and Foul (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 7; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970), and he sang The Fowler in another recording made by Mervyn Plunkett on October 21, 1959 on his 2000 Topic anthology The Bonny Labouring Boy: Traditional Songs and Tunes from a Norfolk Farm Worker. The Caedmon album's booklet commented:

Because the early great ballad scholars had a very rigid model in mind by which they judged the excellence and authenticity of the ballads they chose to publish, they frequently missed songs of great antiquity and beauty that came into their hands in broadside form. This song is a case in point. Jamieson, in Popular Ballads (1806), commented, “This is indeed a silly ditty, one of the very lowest descriptions of vulgar English ballads which are sung about the streets in country towns and sold four of five for a alfpenny.” In fact, however, this story probably enshrines a fragment of one of the age-old myths of North Europe—the transformation of a maiden into a bird by some jealous person. This theme occurs in many legends and is the basis of the famous ballet, “Swan Lake”.

The present form of the ballad is popular throughout England, Ireland, and Northeast America. Sharpe esteemed it and felt that its supernatural theme and its melodic pattern indicated a Celtic origin. Lucy Broadwood recorded a tune in the West Highlands of Scotland attached to a similar text. Joyce remarks that his Irish version is the same air that Thomas Moore used for Come Rest on This Bosom. In some version, the girl is mistaken for a fawn rather than a swan, an idea which is frequently found in Danish songs of the same theme.

Elizabeth Cronin from Co. Cork sang Molly Bawn in a recording made in the early 1950s on the 2012 Topic anthology Good People, Take Warning (The Voice of the People Series Volume 23).

A.L. Lloyd sang Polly Vaughan in a 1951 BBC recording that has been included in the Alan Lomax Collection CD World Library of Folk and Primitive Music: England. He also sang it in the early 1950s on his 78rpm record The Shooting of His Dear / Lord Bateman and on the 1956 Riverside LP Great British Ballads Not Included in the Child Collection. Both of these recordings had the title The Shooting of His Dear. The former was reissued in 2008 on Ten Thousand Miles Away and the latter in 2011 on Bramble Briars and Beams of the Sun; both anthologies are on the Fellside label.

Shirley Collins recorded Polly Vaughan three times with a self-composed tune: in 1959 for her album Sweet England, and twice in 1967 for her albums The Sweet Primeroses (reissued on Fountain of Snow) and The Power of the True Love Knot (reissued on Within Sound and on The Classic Collection). Strangely, the Sweet Primeroses version isn't mentioned on either album cover, sleeve notes or record label.

Anne Briggs sang Polly Vaughan in 1964 on her Topic Records EP The Hazards of Love. This recording was reissued in the 1990s on her Fellside and Topic compilation CDs, Classic Anne Briggs and A Collection. A recording for the BBC programme Folk-Song Cellar, broadcast on August 13, 1966, was released in 2016 on her Fledg'ling EP Four Songs. A.L. Lloyd wrote in her original album's sleeve notes:

Patrick Joyce heard it as Molly Bawn, “sung in fine style in the streets of Dublin by a poor woman with a child on her arm.” He felt it “obviously commemorates a tragedy in real life”. That was in the mid-19th century. Fifty years earlier, an Aberdeen maidservant sang it to Robert Jamieson, who thought it “a silly ditty… one of the very lowest description of vulgar modern English ballads… paltry stuff.” Neither Joyce nor Jamieson saw what lay behind the ballad's simple but odd story. Modern scholars have little doubt that in fact Polly Vaughan is a fine relic of a very ancient ballad concerning one of those magic maidens, familiar in folklore, who are girls by day light but swans (or white does) after sunset, and are tragically hunted and killed by brother or lover. Somerset, Kent and Norfolk are some areas from which the ballad has been recovered, but almost surely it came to England from Ireland. The “fountain of snow” seems a typical bit of Gaelic exuberance, though it may have something to to with the wraith-like appearance of magical Polly.

Martin Carthy sang a version very similar to Anne Brigg's—except for one missing verse—as The Fowler on his and Dave Swarbrick's 1967 album Byker Hill. It was reissued on their compilation album This Is… Martin Carthy. Carthy said in the original album's sleeve notes:

The Fowler or The Shooting of His Dear is another song from the Norfolk collection of E.J. Moeran with an additional verse. It seems curious that Child should have passed over this song when compiling his English and Scottish Popular Ballads as he undoubtedly knew of its existence. Perhaps he felt himself more than usually guided by the opinions of notable predecessors like Jamieson who called it a “silly ditty” and “one of the very lowest of vulgar modern English ballads” and “paltry stuff” before stating his apology for printing it. To be fair, it is in a very confused state. Anne Gilchrist in the Journal of the Folksong Society (number 26) points to many tales, Hessian, Celtic, Scandinavian, and French, telling of girls as milk-white doves or swan maidens who can only be released from enchantment by death. Some have the girls resuming human form at night (Swan Lake is an obvious close relative). It would seem that a less blurred version of the ballad might have the young man coming upon the maiden at sunset, about to undergo the transformation from swan to maiden, thus doing away with the need for the “apron” rationalisation in the last verse. Miss Gilchrist goes further to suggest that in the alternative title “dear” has become confused with “deer” and that “fountains of snow” could possibly have been “fawn, white as snow”. She concludes “Molly Bawn (as she is known in some versions) is no kingless waif of vulgar balladry, but her ultimate ancestry may be left to folklorists to trace…”

Peter Bellamy sang this song unaccompanied as The Shooting of His Dear on his first solo LP, Mainly Norfolk (1968). He commented in the album's liner notes:

The Shooting of His Dear is Harry Cox's superb variant of Polly Vaughan, a strange and ancient ballad. Perhaps when the song was born, Polly really did become a swan and only in more recent and less magical times did she herself wrap up in her apron and become a sad victim of mistaken identity and questionable eyesight.

Phoebe Smith sang Molly Vaughan in a recording made by Paul Carter and Frank Purslow in her home in Melton, Woodbridge, Suffolk, in 1969. This was published in 1970 on her Topic album Once I Had a True Love and in 1998 on the Topic anthology O'er His Grave the Grass Grew Green (The Voice of the People Series Volume 3).

Ewan MacColl sang The Fowler on his 1972 Argo LP Solo Flight.

John Maguire sang Molly Bawn Lowry in a recording made by Robin Morton in 1972 on his Leader album Come Day, Go Day, God Send Sunday.

Packie Manus Byrne sang Molly Bawn in a recording made by Tony Engle and Mike Yates, London, in 1974 on his 1975 Topic album Songs of a Donegal Man and in 1998 on the Topic anthology Tonight I'll Make You My Bride (The Voice of the People Series Volume 6). Mike Yates commented in the sleeve notes:

Packie learnt Molly Bawn from Charlie Waters of Meentinadea near Ardara, Donegal, many years ago when they were both trapped in a deserted farm house at Glendown during a snow storm. The farm belonged to Packie’s sister who was away in hospital expecting a baby, and Packie and Charlie had gone there to look after the farm animals, expecting to only stay for an hour or two. A storm blew up and it was not until four days later that they were able to leave the house where they had been trapped without food or turf. In order to keep warm and cheerful Packie and Charlie had huddled together and spent the time teaching one another songs. According to A.L. Lloyd the ballad is but a remake of the Greek myth of Cephalus and Procris in which Procris, suspecting that her husband Cephalus is about to visit a mistress, hides in a thicket to watch his progress. In fact Cephalus was out hunting and, mistaking Procris for a deer, he killed her with a magic dart. Others, including P.W. Joyce and Professor Hugh Shields, have sought to identify the ballad with an actual event, albeit one which has incorporated the swan-maiden theme. Packie’s tune, in common with most that are associated with this ballad, is especially fine.

Tony Rose recorded Polly Vaughan in 1976 for his LP On Banks of Green Willow. A live recording from Eagle Tavern, New York, in 1981 was included in 2008 on his CD Exe. He commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

There is a strong element of the supernatural in Polly Vaughan where the ghost of a young girl, shot by her sweetheart in mistake for a swan, appears at his trial to plead for his freedom. This is substantially the version collected by George Gardiner from William Bone of Alton, Hampshire, and published in Frank Purslow's Marrow Bones.

Frankie Armstrong sang Polly Vaughn in 1976 on the LP Here's a Health to the Man and the Maid. The album notes comment:

A broadside ballad found in both England and America, is known by various names (Molly Bawn, Molly Bond, The Shooting of the Deer). A young lad accidentally shoots his girlfriend. The theme can be traced back to the Greek myth of Cephalus who shoots his wife Procris, thinking she is a deer. For complete story, see A.L. Lloyd's Folk Song in England.

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sang Polly Vaughn in 1977 on their Folk-Legacy album Dark Ships in the Forest: Ballads of the Supernatural. They commented in their liner notes:

Child apparently did not think enough of this ballad to canonise it; it does not seem possible that he would not have known it. The Scot Robert Jamieson, who published his collection of ballads in 1806, characterised it as “one of the very lowest descriptions of vulgar modern English ballads.” Yet the ballad has remained popular in the tradition, and the plot shows every indication of considerable antiquity. Lloyd points out that the girl, using her apron as protection from the rain, has been identified as a modern relative of a swan maiden or an enchanted doe, Maiden by day, swan by night, hated and envied, killed with a magic gun, reappearing as a spirit to clear her lover—this is the stuff of epic fairy tales.

Our tune comes from Maine, from the book of songs, learned from her parents, authored by Carrie Grover of Bethel; our text comes from Harry Cox and A.L. Lloyd.

Dave Burland sang The Shooting of His Dear in 1979 on his Rubber Records album You Can't Fool the Fat Man.

Patti Reid sang The Fowler in 1992 on the Fellside anthology of English traditional songs, Voices. Paul Adams commented in the liner notes:

This is another old story and seems to be based upon an old Celtic folk tale, An Cailin (The Fair Girl). The story simply is that of a jealous girl who thinks that her lover is going to meet someone else when he goes out shooting. She disguises herself as a swan to follow him. The theme, of course, finds it way into the ballet, Swan Lake. Although alterations have crept in, Patti's version is loosely based on that collected from Harry Cox of Yarmouth, Norfolk.

Walter Pardon sang Polly Vaughan in a Mike Yates recording on his 2000 Musical Traditions anthology Put a Bit of Powder on It, Father. Rod Stradling and Mike Yates commented in the album's booklet:

[…] this is another extremely popular song (122 instances) all over the British Isles and USA, with a few versions found in Canada and just Sally Sloane, again, in Australia. Given the supernatural elements in some versions, it could be a very old song indeed, yet it still has enormous appeal, so that there are some 25 sound recordings—most of the English ones being from East Anglia.

Chris Foster sang The Fowler in 2003 on his Tradition Bearers CD Traces.

Bill Whaley and Dave Fletcher sang Polly Vaughan in 2005 on the Fellside anthology Song Links 2: A Celebration of English Traditional Songs and Their American Variants; the corresponding American version on this double CD is Molly Varne sung by Kieron Means.

Martha Tilston recorded Polly Vaughan in 2006 for her CD Of Milkmaids & Architects. This YouTube video shows her at Acoustic Routes, in the Cellar of CB2 Cambridge, in April 2008:

Jim Causley sang Polly Vaughn in 2007 on his WildGoose CD Lost Love Found. He commented:

I first discovered this gorgeous version of the song on Shirley Collin's album The Sweet Primeroses. The words were collected in the Appalachians by Cecil Sharp and the enchanting melody was written by Shirley herself. Anyone familiar with the English versions of this song (such as Harry Cox's epic version) will notice it's a trifle shorter as it doesn't feature the whole Jimmy's trial and Polly's ghost bit. But I don't mind that as it gets to the point a lot quicker! I’d like to dedicate this song to ‘Old Bean’ Roger Edwards who has given me great encouragement throughout my career and makes me sing this song annually at the English Country Music Weekend.

Bella Hardy sang Molly Vaughan in 2007 on her CD Night Visiting.

Michelle Burke learned I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen from the singing of Elizabeth Cronin. She sang it on her 2009 CD Pulling Threads.

Jon Boden sang Polly Vaughan as the August 17, 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He commented in the project's blog:

Very interested in the idea that this might be a remnant of a shape shifting myth, rather than a song about bad eyesight. Interesting in reference to blacksmith ballads and the lay of Völundr.

Andy Turner sang The Setting of the Sun as the February 2, 2013 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week. He noted in his blog:

This is quite the jolliest version of Polly Vaughan that I’ve come across.

Dave Parry introduced me to the song, which he’d found in Sabine Baring-Gould’s Songs of the West (the 1905 edition, for which Cecil Sharp acted as musical editor). Baring-Gould collected the song on July 12, 1893 from Sam Fone of Mary Tavy in Devon. The words as printed in Songs of the West struck me at the time as having been rewritten and unnecessarily prettified by Baring-Gould, and now that we can see the original—thanks to Martin Graebe and the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library—I think my suspicions are confirmed. In any case, I retained only the tune, first verse and chorus, with the remaining verses taken from what I’d probably consider the definitive version of this song, from the great Harry Cox.

Incidentally, I’ve always thought that the “I shot my true love because I thought she was a swan” argument a rather dodgy line of defence. Wasn’t killing one of the Queen’s swans a crime which was subject to fairly severe penalties?

Lucy Farrell and the Furrow Collective sang Polly Vaughn in 2016 on their second album, Wild Hog. They commented in their liner notes

Lucy learnt this song from the singing of the Norfolk Singer Harry Cox, who called it The Fowler. Although the Scottish antiquary Robert Jamieson, who published the song in his Popular Ballads (1806), commented that it was “indeed a silly ditty, on of the very lowest descriptions of vulgar English ballads“ later scholars have argued that the song, with its elements of magical animal transformation and mistaken identity, in face preserves fragments of some ancient myth. A.L. Lloyd, for example, argued that the ballad can be tracked back to the Greek myth of Cephalus and Procris, which can be found in Ovid's Metamorphoses; the hunter Cephalus, seeing his wife hiding in a thicket, mistakes her for a deer and kills her with a magic dart. Polly Vaughn is mistaken for a swan rather than a deer in this incarnation of the tale.

Corwen Broch and Kate Fletcher sang The Fowler on their 2017 CD Fishe or Fowle. They commented in their liner notes:

A sad tale with possible ancient roots in British and Irish tales of maidens who could transform into swans. “in the room of” is dialect for “in the place of”.

Collected from William Bone of Medstead, Hampshire, in 1907 and Mrs Matthews also of Hampshire in 1908 by H. Gardiner.

Lyrics

Harry Cox sings Polly Vaughan

So come all you bold sportsmen that carry a gun,
I will have you go home by the light of the sun, —
For young Jimmy was a-fowling, was a-fowling alone,
When he shot his own true-love in the room of a swan.

So the first he went to her and found it was she,
He was shaking and tremb-e-ling, his eyes scarce could see.
“So now you are dead, love, and your sorrows are o'er;
Fare thee well, my dear Polly, I shall see you no more.”

Then home went young Jimmer with his dog and his gun
Saying: “Uncle, dear Uncle, have you heard what I've done?
Curs-ed be this old gunsmith that made me this gun,
For I've shot my own true-love in the room of a swan.”

Then out come bold uncle with his locks hanging gray —
Saying, “Jimmer, dear Jimmer, don't you run away.
Don't you leave your own count-e-rie til the trail comes on,
For you ne'er shall be hanged for the crime you has done.”

Now the trial came on and pretty Polly appear,
Saying, “Uncle, dear Uncle, let Jimmer go clear,
For my apron was wrapped round me when he took me for a swan,
And his poor heart lay bleeding for Polly his own.”

Elizabeth Cronin sings Molly Bawn

Jimmy went out fowling with his gun in his hand,
A-fowling all day, as you may understand.
His sweetheart being out walking, he took her for a swan,
And he shot his Molly Bawn at the setting of the sun.

Jimmy he went home with his gun in his hand,
And sad and broken-hearted, as you may understand,
Saying, “Father, dearest father, you know what I have done?
I have shot my Molly Bawn in the setting of the sun,”

Then up and spoke his father, although his locks were grey,
Saying, “Son, dearest son, do you not think of going away.
Stay in this country until your trial is on,
And you never will be hanged for the shooting of a swan.”

Then, “Molly, dearest Molly, you're my joy and heart's delight,
And if you had lived, my dear, I'd make you my bride.
But now, as you are gone to me, I'll sail away and mourn,
And soon I will be following you, my own Molly Bawn.”

It was in three weeks after, to her father she appeared,
Saying, “Father, dearest father, don't think to shoot my dear.
My white apron being around me, he took me for a swan,
And he shot his Molly Bawn at the setting of the sun.”

A.L. Lloyd sings The Shooting of His Dear (78rpm HMV record)

Come all you young fellows that carry a gun,
I'll have you come home by the light of the sun.
For young Jimmy was a fowler, and a-fowling alone,
When he shot his own true love in the room of a swan.

As Polly went out in a shower of hail,
She crept unto the bushes herself to conceal
With her apron thrown over her, and he took her for a swan,
With a shot in the dark he killed Polly his own.

Then home rushed young Jimmy with his dog and his gun,
Crying, “Uncle, dear uncle, have you heard what I've done?
O cursed be that old gunsmith that made my old gun,
For I've shot my own true love in the room of a swan!”

Then out rushed bold uncle with his locks hanging grey,
Crying, “Jimmy, dear Jimmy, don't you run away.
O don't you leave your own country till your trial do come on,
For they never would hang you for shooting a swan.“

Now the girls of this country, they're all glad we know,
To see Polly Vaughan a-lying so low.
You could gather them into a mountain, you could plant them in a row,
And her beauty'd shine among them like a fountain of snow.

Well, in six weeks time the assizes were on
And Polly did appear in the form of a swan,
Crying, “Uncle, dearest uncle, let Jimmy go clear,
For he never should be hung for shooting his dear.”

A.L. Lloyd sings Polly Vaughan (World Library of Folk and Primitive Music: England)

Come all you young fellows that carry a gun,
I'll have you come home by the light of the sun.
For young Jimmy was a fowler, and a-fowling alone,
When he shot his own true love in mistake for a swan.

As young Polly went out in a shower of rain,
She hid under the bushes her beauty to gain.
With her apron thrown over and he took her for a swan,
He aimed and he fired, shot Polly, his own.

Well, home run young Jimmy with his dog and his gun,
Crying, “Uncle, dear uncle, have you heard what I've done?
O cursed be that old gunsmith what made my old gun,
For I've shot my own true love in mistake for a swan!”

Well, the funeral of Polly it was a brave sight,
With four-and-twenty young men and all dressed in white,
And they carried her to the graveyard and they laid her in the grave,
And they said, “Farewell Polly,” and went weeping away.

Shirley Collins sings Polly Vaughan

Come all you young fellows that follow the gun
And beware of sharpshooting by the light of the moon.
Young Polly, she was a-walking in a shower of rain
And she hid by the bushes her beauty to maintain.

Young Jimmy, he was a-fowling, a-fowling all alone,
When he shot his own true love in the place of a swan.
Oh Jimmy, dear Jimmy, don't you see what you have done?
And his poor heart lies bleeding for Polly his own.

Now the girls of this country they're all glad, I know,
To see Polly Vaughan a-lying so low.
You could stand them on a mountain and stand them all in a row,
And her beauty it would shine for line a fountain of snow.

Anne Briggs sings Polly Vaughan

Come all you young fellows that handle a gun,
Beware how you shoot when the night's coming on.
For young Jimmy met his true love, he mistook her for a swan,
And he shot her and killed her by the setting of the sun.

As Polly was walking all in a shower of rain,
She sheltered in the green bush her beauty to save.
With her apron throwed over her, he mistook her for a swan,
And he shot her and killed her by the setting of the sun.

Then home ran young Jimmy with his dog and his gun,
Crying, “Uncle, dear uncle, have you heard what I done?
I met my own true love, I mistook her for a swan,
And I shot her and killed her by the setting of the sun.”

Then out rushed his uncle with his locks hanging grey,
Crying, “Jimmy, oh dear Jimmy, don't you run away.
Don't leave your own country till the trial do come on,
For they never will hang you for the shooting of a swan.”

Oh, the girls of this country they're all glad, we know,
To see Polly Vaughan brought down so low.
You could take them poor girls and set them in a row,
And her beauty would outshine 'em like a fountain of snow.

Well, the trial were on and Polly's ghost did appear,
Crying, “Uncle, dear uncle, let Jimmy go clear,
For my apron was thrown round me, he mistook me for a swan,
And he never would have shot his own Polly Vaughan.”

Martin Carthy sings The Fowler

Come all you young fellows that follow the gun,
I'll have you not go out by the light of the sun.
For young Jimmy was a fowler and a-fowling all alone
When he shot his own true love in the room of a swan.

Then it's home went young Jimmy with his dog and his gun,
Saying, “Uncle dear uncle, do you see what I've done,
Oh, cursed be that old gunsmith who made me my gun
For I've been and shot me true love in the room of a swan.”

Then out came his uncle with his locks hanging grey,
Saying, “Jimmy, dear Jimmy, don't you run away.
And don't you leave your own country till your trial it come on,
For you never will be hanged for the shooting of a swan.“

All the girls in this country, they're all glad we know,
For to see pretty Polly and lying so low.
Oh, you could pile them into a mountain, you could line them all in a row,
And her beauty would shine among them like a fountain of snow.

Now the trial it came on and pretty Polly did appear,
Saying, “Uncle, dear uncle, let Jimmy go clear,
For with me apron thrown over me he took me for a swan,
And his own love lay bleeding for it was Polly his own.”

Peter Bellamy sings The Shooting of His Dear

Come all you young fellows as handle a gun,
I will have you go home by the light of the sun.
For young Jimmy was a-fowling, was a-fowling all alone,
And he shot his own true love in the room of a swan.

When first he went up to her and found it was she,
He was shaken and a-trembling, his eyes scarce could see.
“Well now you are dead, love, and your sorrows are all o'er,
Fare the well, my dear Polly, I will see you no more.”

Then home went young Jimmy with his dog and his gun,
Crying, “Uncle, dear uncle, have you heard what I've done?
Oh cursed be that old gunsmith who made my own gun,
For I shot my own true love in the room of a swan.”

Then out come old uncle with his locks hanging grey,
Saying, “Jimmy, dear Jimmy, don't you run away.
Don't you leave your own country till your trial it do come on,
For they never will hang you for the crime you have done.”

Oh, the girls of this country they're all glad, we know,
To see Polly Vaughan brought down so low.
You could take them poor girls and set them in a row,
And her beauty would outshine 'em like a fountain of snow.

Well, the trial die come on, pretty Polly did appear,
Crying, “Uncle, dearest uncle, let Jimmy go clear,
For my apron was wrapped round me when he took me for a swan,
And his poor heart lay bleeding for Polly his own.”
[spoken:] Polly his own

Tony Rose sings Polly Vaughan

One midsummer's evening, the sun being gone down,
Young Polly went walking by the side of a pond.
She sat under the shady trees, the showers for to shun,
With her apron wrapped around her, as white as a swan.

Young Willy went hunting with his dog and his gun,
Young Willy went hunting as the evening came on.
Down among those green rushes, as the evening came on,
He shot his own true love in the room of a swan.

And when he'd seen what he'd done away he did run
Crying, “Father, dear father, do you see what I've done?
Down among those green rushes, as the evening came on,
I shot my own true love in the room of a swan.”

“Stay at home, dear Willy, till your trial do come on,
That you may not be banished to some far land.
On the day of your trial your father will appear
With a hundred bright guineas if that will you clear.”

On the day of the trial young Polly did appear,
Crying, “People, oh people, let Willy go clear,
Down among those green rushes, as the evening came on,
He shot his own true love in the room of a swan.”

Acknowledgements

Martin Carthy's version transcribed by Garry Gillard.